Parliamentary elections in Venezuela have been held every five years since the first legislature of the National Assembly (NA) in 2000. However, in order to understand the political context of the 2020 election, it is necessary to examine the dictatorial turn of the Nicolás Maduro regime after the defeat of Chavism in the 2015 legislative elections.
As of December 2015, the government, together with the Judiciary and the state security forces, began an unprecedented offensive against the opposition. This systematic siege on parliamentary autonomy accelerated the deterioration of electoral conditions that were already questionable back then.
Shortly after the results of the parliamentary election, with the largest electoral turnout in history, giving a qualified majority of 2/3 of the seats to the opposition, the presidential counterattack began. The Supreme Court of Justice would be the main battering ram of this site that persists to this day with 141 sentences that seek as a whole to annul the constitutional powers of this parliamentary majority.
One of the first rulings was challenged for insufficient burden of proof, negating the right to defense, and the lack of a final ruling regarding the deputies of the state of Amazonas. In this way, in addition to curtailing the territory of parliamentary representation, the consolidation of the qualified majority was prevented, and with it the constitutional powers that this type of majority has in terms of political control. This attack would mark the rest of the rulings and actions against the NA. The swearing in of those deputies was the alibi for declaring the parliament in contempt and with it, nullifying all decisions and the full exercise of its institutional powers.
For 2016, the petition for a recall referendum by the opposition mobilized in the elections was scorned by the National Electoral Council with unfounded accusations of fraud in the collection of signatures. This, in addition to once again fueling the crisis of governance, renewed distrust in the electoral process among citizens and among leaders of the MUD, a coalition of parties already disbanded.
The forging of a tailor-made electoral system became state policy to the point of allowing for an unconstitutional call for eletions, as was the election of the National Constituent Assembly in 2017, which was aimed at drafting a new constitution. In practice, however, only a parallel parliament was imposed on the NA. This practice employed by Chavismo, when some electoral result had been adverse to it, ended up emptying the vote of civic sense as a means of political expression and institutional change.
With this new imposition, the persecution of the deputies and the bloody repression of the more than 6,700 social protests registered in 2017 would continue, while the opposition continued to be divided regarding its strategies for political change. For the regional elections of 2017, the electoral demobilization would be undeniable and the internal division between abstentionists and electoralists would deepen. This reached its maximum expression with the 2018 presidential convocation, which was full of vices.
The blind street of abstentionism
The current opposition abstentionism began to take shape at the end of 2016 and grew with the lack of knowledge of the 2018 presidential elections and the irruption of the interim government of Juan Guaidó in January 2019.
The expectations of a democratic transition and the request for the cessation of the functions of a government catalogued as usurper by that questioned election, was a new strategic framework to pressure a political change supported by more than 50 democracies. With the establishment of a diplomatic and financial siege on the Maduro regime, the opposition leadership considered that sooner rather than later an internal breakdown would occur, especially among the security forces.
But the strategy did not work, nor did the subsequent attempts at negotiation with the regime. On the contrary, this miscalculation served Chavismo to purge its ranks of defectors and succeeded in dismantling the opposition from the only scenario in which it has been successful: the electoral arena.
After the military expulsion of the deputies from the Federal Legislative Palace in January 2020 and the establishment of a new board of directors, Chavism disregarded the powers of the current legislature and imposed new electoral authorities, new regulations, new boards of directors in the majority of the parties, and unconstitutionally expanded the number of seats in the National Assembly. These actions occur while the accelerated impoverishment of the population continues, massive forced migration continues, and vulnerability increases in the face of the expansion of the COVID19 in a country with an almost non-existent health system.
It should be noted that Venezuela has a bitter precedent on issues of abstention. The withdrawal of the opposition from the 2005 parliamentary elections brought about disastrous political, economic and legal results, the effects of which are still felt today. During the 2005-2010 legislature, the current anti-democratic legal architecture was built and all parliamentary mechanisms for budgetary control were handed over, which allowed the consequent expansion of plundering and Chavista corruption.
Despite this precedent, the opposition has reiterated its lack of knowledge about the legislative elections of 2020
Despite this precedent, the opposition has reiterated its lack of knowledge about the legislative elections of 2020 and has proposed instead new mobilizations and even a popular consultation. However, abstaining will not lead to a strengthening of unity, nor will it help to maintain international support once the constitutional mandate of the parliamentary opposition ends in January 2021.
While current electoral conditions could not be worse, abstention would end up being a blind alley with no strategic value for the future. For even in the face of defeat, the organizational effort involved in any election could allow the opposition to rebuild the strategic unity lost, renew its leadership and progressively recover the social support of a new demographic reality. In this way, it could recalculate its strategies in the face of a geopolitics that is increasingly disjointed and erratic about the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis.
For now, these controversial legislative elections could end up consolidating the transition to a much more restrictive regime. A new political system in which all public powers are hegemonically controlled and the new opposition is kept under guardianship, imprisoned, disqualified, exiled and divided. All this in the face of the humanitarian suffering resulting from a political collapse that today seems far from being resolved.
*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli
Photo by Carlos Adampol at Foter.com / CC BY-SA